view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
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... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Aboriginal Day

The other day I stumbled across a festival of all things First Nation. The square in front of the Art Gallery was filled with giant teepees! There was music, masks, jewelry…

It was wonderful to see all this nestled amongst the skyscrapers of downtown.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Arthur Erickson Said…

squreThere has never been a device which embodies greater antipathy to the idea of community that the North American grid. It absolutely prevents points of arrival, places of meeting, nodes of concentration and focus, differentiation in the design of streets; and it ignores features of terrain and climate. Patterned on the grid system streets cannot serve the social purposes of the city as they should; they can only serve as channels for service, for ways of getting away. Yet the streets, not the individual buildings, make up the public space of the city. It is the street environment that both reflects and contributes to our civilization.

Came across this quote on a wall upstairs in the Art Gallery. If you need a change of pace from the Haida art downstairs, do venture up.

Check it out here

200 Years of Haida Art

raven4This is the show to see here in Vancouver this season! The Vancouver Art Gallery has collected together artifacts from museums and private collections from around the world and brought it all home to BC for a few short months.


Walking through the gallery you can’t not smile to see a bentwood box carved over 200 years ago sitting right next to one carved earlier this year. The dark old weathered one right next to its bright and youthful cousin. They seem to get along quite nicely.

raven1In another room there’s a 200 year old raven mask carved by the former chief of the Raven clan on the Queen Charlotte Islands. In the case next to it is a modern raven mask carved by the current chief of the same clan. The masks have never seen each other until now, even though they are direct descendents and one inspired the other.

There’s beautiful silver bowls and bracelets, intricately woven hats and clothing, masks and totem poles. The show is laid out chronologically, so you get a great sense of the history of the Haida and how the art has developed. There’s a video of modern Haida carver Robert Davidson who says the first mask he ever made was out of a paper bag because there was nothing else to use at the time. When he began carving for real he had a profound sense of deja-vu, like he has been doing this for generations.

raven3My favorites were the masks of Gagiid – a mythical person who fell overboard at sea but was too strong to drown. All that time in the ocean has left him a little worse for wear though, and he doesn’t quite fit into society now. Still, cool stuff.

The Haida have no word for art because all of their artifacts were used as practical everyday objects. They do though have the wonderful word, stl’iinl, which means “those with clever hands, who are good at what they do.” So, if you’re up here this summer, and want to see works by some Haida stl’iinl, check it out.
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Go the the Gallery here

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Golden Spruce

spruceContinuing in the tradition of Into the Wild, and The Last American Man is a great book I found here in Vancouver called The Golden Spruce. Author John Vaillant has been compared to Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger, and tells the story of British Columbia logging scout Grant Hadwin. In the Winter of 1997 in a wild act of eco-terrorism and protest, Hadwin took a chain saw to a unique 300 year old Sitka tree known as the Golden Spruce.

Cutting down a tree is hardly newsworthy, but this particular tree was a scientific marvel (earning its own Latin classification) and sacred to the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The Golden Spruce was a perfectly healthy tree whose needles shone golden in the sunlight. People who saw it describe it taking their breath away. In a land of almost constant rain and cloud cover, this one tree was an anomaly that was studied, photographed and woven into myth. It was also the pet tree of Bloedel Lumber, the logging company Hadwin worked for and became increasingly disillusioned with.

Hadwin grew up in the logging community in British Columbia and seemed absolutely born to live and work in these harsh conditions. He would spend weeks on end exploring the mountains and forests with an eye for where best to lay in roads so logging equipment could gain access. He was so comfortable in the woods that he was able to stay out for weeks at a time with very little gear. He loved the forests and began to realize the irony in his position as one of the last people to see old growth forests before they were logged into oblivion.

The book dives into the psychology of Hadwin and what would drive someone to act the way he did. He’s definitely a compelling character and a force to be reckoned with. Hadwin confessed to the crime but failed to appear at his court date. His damaged kayak was found on a remote Alaskan island weeks later, and many believe he is on the run to this day, vanished into the wild forests where he was so at home. This case is still open by officials in both British Columbia and Alaska, and Hadwin’s wife has been trying for years to have him declared dead, so she can get on with her and their children’s lives.

spruce2The felling of this one tree caused such an outrage that before his disappearance Hadwin began to fear for his life. It’s certainly possible that he could’ve made a run for it and is still out there somewhere. When he was ordered to appear in court for his sentencing, Hadwin knew that to travel by ferry or small plane out to the islands would make him an easy target for locals who have been known to take the law into their own hands. He decided instead to paddle by kayak, a voyage of at least a week for an experienced paddler. Hadwin attempted this crossing in February when the Hecate Strait is one of the most dangerous pieces of water on an unpredictable coast.

All that is known is that Hadwin never showed up at the end of that week to appear in court, and has since vanished. John Vaillant tells this story beautifully, taking us into the troubled mind of Hadwin, the complex myth of the Haida, and the world of logging – the most dangerous land-based job in North America. The wounds left behind by the felling of the Golden Spruce are still raw for many, and this book captures that heartache with all the beauty of these northern woods.

Check it out here

Sunday, June 11, 2006

You Can’t Do This Sitting in Traffic on the 405

Part 5
In a rare free evening when we both got out of work early, Tiff and I went for a walk through Stanley Park. We found this pond as the sun was setting and the forest was getting dark.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

You Can’t Do This Sitting in Traffic on the 405

Part 4
The brilliant Stanley Park is only a 15 minute bike ride away. This time I wanted to ride the sea wall, which circles the perimeter of the park. There’s also tons of trails that criss-cross the interior – plenty of exploring to do here!

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Dragonflies and Totem Poles

eyes6I had read somewhere that the reason Pacific Northwest indigenous art is infused with so many geometric shapes is because they represent eyes. The First Nation people show eyes in everything. Eyes look out from the bodies of fish and the fins of whales. There’s eyes in the paws of bears and wolves. A totem pole is one big stack of eyes looking out on the world. It’s a beautifully animistic way of seeing the environment as immediate and alive. After staring long enough at indigenous art I’m beginning to see these eyes everywhere I look, in the leaves of trees and the shape of rear view mirrors.

dragonflyThis afternoon I found a dragonfly. Its long tail was the perfect depiction of a totem pole in miniature. This tiny creature spent its short life with its family tree on display, literally carrying its tribe’s history in tow. Striped in geometric black, muted blue and brown, the patterns and colors would make a Haida artist proud. And yep, it looked like a string of eyes.

As I held this brittle insect in my hands, was I looking at the original inspiration for the great totem poles? It is art imitating life, or the other way around? Maybe it’s just another example of the ever-present eyes that gaze out onto the world.
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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Spot the Maple Leaf

I thought the States were bad when it came to shameless flag-waving, Canada plasters its logo everywhere they can. Though here it feels less like triumphalist posing and more defining themselves from the Other – that giant super power to the south. It’s got to be hard living next to such a brash and unruly neighbor, so any chance they get (with every dotted i, apostrophe, and semicolon), the Canadians remind us that this isn’t America.

Here’s some of the countless examples, lest we forget where we are…

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Click here for more of the ubiquitous leaf.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

You Can’t Do This Sitting in Traffic on the 405

Part 3
stumpIn praise of wrong turns - the other day I was driving to work and I missed the turn. I ended up driving way up the road trying to find a decent place to pull over. Turns out, there’s a whole mountain up there with a beautiful park and miles of trails to explore.

The next chance I had, I put on my hiking boots and set off. This is one of the great things about living in a northern city – it stays late till at least 10pm, so if I get out of the office at a civil time, there’s plenty of day left to have a life.

shadowtrailI set off from the car at about 7:30 but it felt like early afternoon. The trail ahead of me climbed into the trees and along a ridge overlooking Deep Cove to the north. covetreeFor the first couple of kilometers I followed a wide gravel trail winding through the forest. I was occasionally passed by panting mountain bikers covered in mud. I took a left turn up a single track trail that climbed into the woods. Before long I was scrambling over muddy roots and wading through giant ferns. The trail curved around in a big arc circling the top of Burnaby Mountain before emerging trailinto a clearing at Simon Fraser University. From there I followed a path back to Burnaby Park and my car. The sun was just setting over the Pacific, shining off the harbors of downtown Vancouver below me.


It was a great 8k loop and next time I’m bringing my bike! There were tons of cyclist out there and these trails look great. I’m sure these are considered the bunny slopes of Vancouver – the North Shore is where the hard core riders tear it up – but you can’t beat eveningthe convenience of being at the back door of work. I might be leaving earlier and earlier on these summer evenings.